Little do the oversized world of galumphing humans realise that living in our forests are legions of tiny ‘Leafmen’, in armour, protecting the natural world from the evils of decay. Under the benevolent rule of a magical queen, this ancient race maintains balance by keeping in check their marauding antagonists, the ‘Boggans’. At least this is the world presented in Epic (2013), the latest whiz-bang, polychrome 3D adventure from Blue Sky Studios. It sees director Chris Wedge reunited with author William Joyce (they created 2005’s Robots together) to adapt the writer’s popular children’s book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.
Rebranding the story as a grand quest for the soul of a forest, Epic jettisons the vast majority of the source material and brings a human into the mix in the form of M.K. (Amanda Seyfried). She stumbles across the miniature Queen Tara (Beyoncé Knowles) on the same day – which occurs once every several hundreds years – that the stars align and a new queen must rise. Shrunken by Tara, she is entrusted with guarding a magical pod; when it blooms in direct moonlight, the new ruler will be chosen but if the Boggans get to it first, then a dark prince will be born. This brings M.K. into contact with rookie Leafman Nod (Josh Hutcherson), Ronin (Colin Farrell), a slug (Aziz Ansari) and a snail (Chris O’Dowd).
The forest-dwelling companions combine to help M.K. protect the pod form the evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), the Boggan leader. All the while, M.K.’s estranged father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), is obsessively trying to find the Leafmen despite nobody else believing in their existence. This all feels like it should have some overarching environmental message – as other similar films have – but in fact Epic eschews them in favour of its generic hostilities. Yes, the Leafmen and their queen must battle to prevent the Boggans’ miasma overpowering the entire forest, but this is merely a device to create a confrontation between good and evil.
If there are interesting themes at play, then they revolve around parenthood but those are actually handled in a rather clunky manner and any personal growth the neglectful father Bomba might go through feels unravelled by his discovery that he was right all along. Sadly, though, it’s not the lack of a message that scuppers proceedings as a lack of any real fun or adventure. O’Dowd and Ansari do their best to bring some comedic touches but they’re largely unsuccessful and easily dwarfed by Ozzie, the three-legged pug. With the laughs scarce, it’s left to the story to enchant and regrettably Epic was always going to lose the fight against its hyperbolic title.